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Eric Sands

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Huntington's Eric Sands pushes through the pack. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

A series of fortunate events led Huntington football to a homecoming victory Oct. 21.

Down the entire game, a 76-yard touchdwon toss from quarterback John Paci to Alex LaBella gave the Blue Devils their first lead of the game, 20-13, with 6:22 remaining in the fourth quarter. Then, with one minute left to play, Riverhead went for a 2-point conversion following a 3-yard touchdown run from Darnell Chandler that made it 20-19, instead of trying to tie the game with an extra-point kick. The ball was dropped by Riverhead’s Albert Daniels in the end zone on the attempt to hand Huntington the game.

Huntington’s John Paci pulls back to launch a pass. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“Winning is always something we look to do,” Huntington head coach Steve Muller said, adding he did not anticipate the game finishing in this fashion it did. “We take it game by game no matter who they are. We respect everybody. We’re trying to get into the playoffs.”

At halftime, Huntington was down 7-0 after a 40-yard touchdown pass from Christian Pace to Chandler in the second quarter. The Blue Devils offense was lifeless in the first half.

“We thought we didn’t play good Huntington football,” Muller said. “I said to my guys in the locker room that there’s really nothing to say, but we can take over this game if we want to. It’s how bad you want to be remembered for this homecoming.”

Eric Sands, a Top 25 rusher in Suffolk County, had two touchdowns in the second half. The senior said he just wants to go to work every time he steps on the gridiron.

“I’m always excited when my name is called,” he said of consistently getting the football. “I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do and stay focused.”

Sands has 611 yards on 87 carries and 11 touchdowns through seven games this season. He scored on runs of 5 yards and 2 yards in the win, and finished the game with 132 yards on 25 carries.

Paci, who completed four of eight passes for 123 yards, seemed to be the hero after heaving the big touchdown pass to LaBella for the advantage, but the junior was quick not to take all the credit.

Huntington’s Alex LaBella races toward the end zone. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“I was scared when the ball was in the air,” Paci said. “It had some arc on it, but I was so excited when LaBella caught it.”

His senior wide receiver was also sweating on the other side of the field.

“There was a lot of nervousness,” LaBella said. “I just had to keep my eye on the ball, run down the field and score.”

Luke Eidle, who had 11 tackles and an interception, also aided Huntington.

Huntington hasn’t lost a game since Sept. 23, a 20-17 loss at home against West Islip. With the win over Riverhead, the Blue Devils have won four straight and improve their record to 5-2.

“I’m always proud of my team,” Muller said. “They’re all great kids and they work real hard everyday. That’s all I could ask for.”

Huntington will go on the road to conclude the season with a game at Bay Shore, which hasn’t lost its last two games, but only scored 10 points in that duration. The game will be Oct. 28 at 2:30 p.m.

Huntington football fans come out to celebrate homecoming. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Bill Landon

After what was argued to be a questionable call, Smithtown West’s football team couldn’t catch Huntington, falling 28-23 in the Bulls’ homecoming game Oct. 7.

On Huntington’s last possession of the third quarter, the offensive line stood and the line of scrimmage to start play, but decided instead to let the clock expire. What went unnoticed at field level was Huntington’s center bending over and touching the ball before he decided to stand up and let time tick off the clock.

Up in the press box, an assistant coach radioed head coach Steve Fasciani, who told player David Gonzales to pick up the ball and run with it. The wide receiver took off for the end zone, and officials blew their whistle at the 30-yard line, but Fasciani argued it was a live ball. After a 25-minute conference which including sourcing the rulebook, the ruling on the field stood that there was no touchdown.

“I have no problem with how our guys played in the second half today; all heart. They played tough and they took the next step in my opinion.”

—Steve Fasciani

In the fourth quarter, Smithtown West quarterback Kyle Zawadzki found wide receiver Chris Crespo open over the middle, who turned it up field for the touchdown with just over three minutes left to play. Kicker Matthew Villano scored on the extra-point kick attempt to pull Smithtown West within five, but Huntington took over and let the clock unwind.

“They play power football and they’re very good at it, but our second half — with how our defense played — was a huge step for us,” Fasciani said. “I have no problem with how our guys played in the second half today; all heart. They played tough and they took the next step in my opinion.”

Running back Eric Sands led the way for the Blue Devils, and after a long run down to the 2-yard line, he sealed the deal by punching into the end zone two plays later. Senior Nat Amato split the uprights for a 7-0 lead.

The Bulls struggled with their running game, and went three-and-out on their first three possessions against a formidable Huntington defensive unit.

Utilizing the hurry-up offense, Huntington connected on three consecutive pass plays to move the chains to the 15-yard line. Sands once again made his way into the end zone, racing down the right sideline and breaking a tackle before sauntering into touchdown land. After a low snap, holder Luke Eidle was able to gather it up and Amato struck again to put his team out front 14-0 with just over two minutes left in the opening quarter.

Smithtown West made progress up the field, but the Blue Devils defense forced a turnover, and Sands got the call once more as the junior raced 19 yards for the touchdown. Amato, perfect on the day, gave Huntington a 21-0 advantage with just under 10 minutes left until halftime.

“We thought they were identical to us with their offense — they’ve got a lot of talented skill players — but we knew coming in we were going to have to stop [Kyle Zawadzki].”

—Steve Muller

“[Eric Sands] was a monster in the beginning of the game,” Huntington head coach Steve Muller said. “We thought they were identical to us with their offense — they’ve got a lot of talented skill players — but we knew coming in we were going to have to stop [Kyle Zawadzki].”

But the coach said he knew his team couldn’t stop him.

“He’s very, very good, an outstanding athlete,” Muller said. “Since can’t stop him, you have to bend him a little bit.”

Zawadzki made that hard to do when he dropped back to pass Crespo, crossing over the middle, who made the 36-yard touchdown catch. Crespo struck again on a handoff, punching it in for the two-point conversion to trail 21-8 with less than seven minutes left in the second.

Huntington responded when quarterback John Paci hit a hole, broke outside and raced 51 yards down the right sideline before he was forced out at the 14-yard line. Sands finished the play by breaking free of two would-be tacklers and finding the end zone for his fourth touchdown of the game. Sands said he couldn’t take all the credit for the scores.

“My line, they’re excellent,” he said. “They’re my leaders and I can’t say enough about them. They played great; I can’t do it without those guys.”

Smithtown West fumbled the ball four minutes into the third, and Smithtown West running back and linebacker Matthew Caddigan recovered it. Zawadzki scored on a keeper, taking the ball five yards for the only third-quarter score.

“I thought we played a sloppy second half,” Sands said. “But [Smithtown West is] a competitive team.”

The Bulls drop to 2-3 in the Suffolk County Division II standings while the Blue Devils improve to 3-2. Huntington hopes to spoil another homecoming when the Blue Devils travel to Newfield Oct. 14 at 2 p.m. Smithtown West will face off against crosstown rival Smithtown East the same date and time.

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